Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Youth Basketball: Do you have to be a star player to be great?

Alan Stein, social media influencer and basketball strength / conditioning guru, has a great post on his blog that every youth sports parents should read. The post is call Specialist.

In the post, Alan proves that an basketball player doesn't have to have superior skills and athletic ability in all facets of a game to be great. A player just needs to do at least one facet of the game great to be considered great.

He used the career of Dennis Rodman to illustrate his point. One could easily argue that Rodman's name would never be mentioned with names like Bird, Magic, MJ and the Big O when the game's great players are discussed. Rodman was not an "all time" great because he was not a great player at all facets of the game. He was a specialist. Dennis Rodman was a defensive and rebounding specialist. Both are important qualities but these qualities are not featured on Sportscenter nightly. Rodman was not a big time scorer, but he is in the hall of fame. And that makes him great.

So what should a parent do with this information

1) If your kid matured early both physically and mentally; and if your kid has game compared to all of the other players in his or her area, then develop all facets of his or her game. More importantly continue to challenge them. Sometimes players who are dominant at a young age are never challenged, so they never develop the mental toughness needed to overcome defeats and setbacks when they arise. These players often struggle in their teens when they run up against late bloomers who had to scratch and claw for every achievement early on before they grew bigger, stronger and more coordinated.

2) If you kid is the late bloomer and has trouble in certain aspects of the game due to limitations, then help them develop confidence in what they can do well at this stage of their development. For example, my daughter is the smallest girl on the court every AAU game she plays. She does not have the strength nor the size to match up in the paint, but she has a spot on the team. She is a very strong front court defender and she is, perhaps, the best outside shooter on the team. She practices her outside shot almost daily.

She also plays on a team in a less serious league where the girls are smaller. She does this so that she can work on the other aspects of her game. Perhaps one day she will catch up to the others in size and strength and be a featured player - until then she is content knocking down threes, draining foul shots and getting points off of steals.

My daughter is a good player. She is not a great player, but she is working hard to perhaps one day be a great player.

The Main Point

Your kid does not need to be an athletically dominant - featured player to be considered a great player. Help your kid find the strength of his or her game. Then encourage them to work extra hard at that strength to master that aspect of their game. Of course, they need to work on the other aspects of the game to exploit opportunities when they arise.


  1. "So what should a parent do with this information?"

    I like your answers to this question!

    Specialization in this context is about learning how to play a team role well. As a youth coach and parent, I expect that you are always looking for the team roles that can provide each child with their moments of success--no matter how small. You still Teach Everyone Everything (TEE) in practice and challenge your kids to grow. But finding the team role(s) best suited to a young athlete's current abilities provides him or her with an authentic opportunity to meaningfully contribute value to the team.

    The problem with "specialization" is that it sometimes becomes distorted. The thinking becomes, "If my child is an excellent youth basketball point guard or rebounder, why not dedicate his or her time and effort to this one sport and position/role." And unfortunately, for all the reasons talked about in posts elsewhere, this form of specialization can ruin an athlete in the long-run.

    1. Thanks for your thoughtful response - I agree kids are constantly changing and growing relative to others - a center might eventually be a point guard - a point guard might eventually become a center - so I think that every kid should work on all aspects of the game - That is why my daughter concentrates on her two guard shooting for her AAU team and also plays on a CYO and Rec teams to hone her point guard skills. Too young to specialize.

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